Sunday, July 24, 2005


I finally got around to watching the second installment of the Guns, Germs, and Steel PBS miniseries. This episode focused mainly on the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire during the 1500s. I remember learning about how the first Europeans who arrived in the Americas brought over all kinds of diseases that decimated the native populations since they had never been exposed to them and therefore, had no natural immunity. The thing that I never understood was why the Europeans didn't run into the same problems, since presumably the Native Americans had diseases that the Europeans had never been exposed to before. As Diamond points out, the illnesses that have decimated human populations over the centuries, such as the plague, smallpox, measels, and perhaps someday, bird flu, all have jumped from animals to humans. Europeans lived in close proximity to their domestic sheep, pigs, goats, and cattle in addition to eating their meat and, in some cases, drinking their milk. The reason the Europeans didn't get sick was because the Native Americans didn't have any of these killer diseases to pass around since they didn't live in close proximity with domestic animals.

Overall, I felt that this installment left a lot of questions unanswered. Both episodes have stated numerous times that the people of Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia were the beneficiaries of the great advancements made in the fertile crescent. The Europeans, however, were the only ones who managed to parlay this advantage into world domination. This episode really didn't do much to explain why Europeans had so much more success. There is only so much information that can be presented in a three-hour miniseries, but I feel like skipping from the dawn of agriculture to the 16th century was too big of a leap. Fortunately, I just picked up the book, which I presume covers this time period in more detail. The final episode, which covers the European colonization of the African continent, airs tomorrow night at 10 PM EST.

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